WHAT a wailing and gnashing of teeth is heard in Australian wannabe author land. And it’s all that darn Graeme Simsion’s fault. How dare he be so successful, and so fast?
It’s not just that he won this year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. It’s not even that his novel, The Rosie Project, has since been sold in 12 countries, earning him more than $1 million.
It’s the fact that he wrote the thing in 50 days.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a fantastic achievement and I wish Simsion all the best. It’s just that many struggling writers – published or unpublished – will find his breakthrough a bitter pill to swallow when they’ve been slaving over the same manuscript for years. And now he’s written another novel in five weeks! Talk about rubbing your nose in it.
Quickie books are nothing new – journalists routinely do them to deadline to cash in on some big news event and to beat their rivals. Usually these books don’t turn out to be great literature. And yet some wonderful novels have been written very quickly. Anthony Burgess claimed A Clockwork Orange was ”a jeu d’esprit knocked off for money in three weeks”. Charles Dickens dashed off A Christmas Carol in six weeks; William Faulkner took the same time to produce As I Lay Dying; and Muriel Spark bashed out The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in a month.
Then there are quickies produced by writers as a relief from long-haul work. Graham Greene was having a lot of trouble with The Power and the Glory, so he thought he’d try to make some money by writing another novel in the mornings.
The result was his ”entertainment” The Confidential Agent, produced in just six weeks. He needed a bit of help, though, from Benzedrine. And there are other disturbing tales of stimulants fuelling manic writing marathons: Alexandre Dumas used coffee to win a bet that he could write the first volume of Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge in three days. What a wreck he must have been afterwards.
Benzedrine was also the drug of choice for Jack Kerouac, possibly the most famous speedy writer, when, in 1941, he produced 200 short stories in eight weeks. He wrote On the Road in three weeks in 1951 on a single scroll of paper.
These are romantic, exciting stories, and some would-be writers use them to kick-start their own inspiration. But in literature, there is very rarely such a thing as overnight success.
Other tales of mythical marathons often turn out to be about producing first drafts, not finished novels.
After getting down the first burst of ideas, the hard, painstaking work of rewriting comes later and takes much longer. Books that emerge in a few weeks have often been brewing in notebooks or in the writer’s head or in another form of writing for a long time.
Kerouac had a big sheaf of notes that went into creating On the Road. Graeme Simsion already had the story and characters of The Rosie Project fully worked out for a screenplay he’d written. Although writing a novel is a very different thing, the screenplay must have given him a great head start.
Writing quickly can be liberating: it dispels fear. You simply don’t have time to feel anything negative. Hence the appeal of National Novel Writing Month, when writers around the world try to produce a complete draft in 30-odd days. But that’s usually what it is: a draft. Something skeletal. Putting meat on the bones is a task still to come.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.